Characters That Take Jobs as Strippers....paint strippers between detective gigs
by Robert W. Walker
Do you like your main POV characters to remain the same throughout a series? Or do you prefer for a main character to discover new facets of character as he/she goes and undergoes changes?
This topic came up recently among friends on a chat group and the preferences vary widely. Some of the longest running series appear to please on the basis of the character NOT changing a wit, a character that to me is 'static' as I prefer both to read about and to write about characters that evolve, grown, learn from their experiences, and become more adept at life as they go.
Apparently, there is room for both kinds of books and for both kinds of readers, which is fine with me. There are, after all, many rivers to the ocean. However, as I have my prejudice and this is my blog day at Acme, I am going to discuss why I write characters who change and react differently to different stimuli at different times.
First I write books that aspire to a world that is as near mirror image of life as I can make it. Painters differ in this as well as writers; many aspire to capture life as it appears, some so close it is like looking out a window, whereas many other artists paint terrific paintings that look nothing like real life. I can appreciate a Wyeth and I can appreciate a Van Gogh. But for me, in real life, people do change, they age, their surroundings/settings age as with peeling house paint, rusting cars, etc.
So here goes --
Let me be the first to ask who will be the "last writer standing" and the "last character remembered"? With regard to those who do not want their favorite characters to change: I think what you reallly mean is that you do not want to see them go against type - the type of character they are...as in if suddenly the character you felt polite and intelligent has a breakdown at a dinner party or in a public place and suddenly acts OUT of character to the point of kickiing a dog or getting drunk or making a fool of herself, or decidiing out of the blue to become a Lesbian, etc. For me that is significantly different from saying a character should never change or grow or stretch or learn.
Allow me to play Devil's Advocate on this subject. For instance some say they love Watson and Holmes for who they are and never want to see a changed Holmes; great example for both sides of this argument because Sherlock did sink to drugs-- The Seven Percent Solution. And while Sherlock seems not to change or alter, this is an illusion; he has many moods and we see them all; in his down time, between cases, he is depressed to the point of being bipolar, as when on a case his mood swings entirely away. Does he change over time or even in the individual story?
We who write fiction start with a BEDROCK of character, which we challenge, throw rocks at, tease, place into hot and cold situations, test and test again and while the bedrock remains firm, our characters learn and grow and thank God. Perhaps in the real world people don't always change but I believe people capable of changing even as they hold onto their bedrock beliefs and gestalt. In every book that I have ever loved as a kid, there was a character ARC...as in a coming of age, a loss of innocence, a stripping away of illusions and a realization on the part of the main character that appearances were seldom the same as reality. A good character grows in this sense, else you have a Woody Allen film (has Woody's main character ever learned anything?)
I PUT the book DOWN if there is no evidence of growth, learning, evolving. Look at our classics....the books which are penned by the "last writer standing" from his era -- Mark Twain's Huck Finn has completely changed from his appearance in Tom Sawyer. Victor Hugo's Hunchback changes and man what changes come in his Le Misrables. Our best writers from Hemingway to Faulkner may be world's apart stylistically but both authors are interested in point of view characters who are not going to be victims but who are going to take action when some train or other comes at them be it a phsyical triain or an emotional train. Ismael in Moby Dick - change, growth, going from ignorance to experience and know-how. Two Years Before the Mast...you name your favorite.
Now perhaps in a mystery series Reacher is always Reacher and Repairman Jack is always Repairman Jack as the author knows these fully-realized characters require bedrock characterization, but the most memorable for me are characters who do go through crisis and heroes that do often fail, and leads who do make adjustments in their thinking and lifestyle as when a character is scarred both physically and mentally and begins to use a cane and feels self-doubt where it didn't exist before, and in a followup story/book, he regains his self-confidence and power and skills.
This interests me about real people; people who are down to nothing and somehow go from homelessness to riches for instance, or a maimed person who goes from a horrible loss of limbs for instance and overcomes this, or a person who has overcome a bad upbringing or a terrible environment. I want my main characters to be 'real life-like' heroes.
This is certainly the case with my main characters from Abe Stroud, archeologist to Lucas Stonecoat, Texas Cherokee detective, to Jessica Coran, FBI ME whose arc is rich with growth, ups, downs, swings, depressions, highs, lows, you name it. I left her in a happy state in the end because damn it, she deserved some rest and peace and harmony after all I had put her through. Plans are to now shatter that peace in a new book with Jess back on the trail of another 'monstrous' killer --of course as an ebook.
Free opening chapters of Children of Salem and/or Titanic 2012 found at
Do leave a comment - would love to know your preference? Do you like some characters to stay as is and others not? Doesn't it depend on the execution of the story and what the author intends?